For those of us living in the modern global world, a tribal lifestyle is incredibly foreign. However, a surprising number of people still live traditional lifestyles, completely cut off from modern conveniences like indoor plumbing, the Internet and electricity; these people are often called “uncontacted peoples.” Indigenous peoples who remain in isolation exist for a variety of reasons: some have voluntarily chosen to forsake the modern world, some are left alone for fear that they lack immunities to diseases that foreign people might bring with them, and some activists fear that contacting these people would be infringing on their right to privacy and isolation. While uncontacted tribes exist throughout the globe, their existence is most prevalent in areas that contain impenetrable forests and jungles. Largely because of this environment, the lifestyles of many indigenous peoples are severely threatened. Deforestation, tourism and disease are just a handful of the factors that are contributing to the declining lifestyles and cultures of these unique peoples. Listed here are 12 of the most isolated and un-contacted tribes in the world.
12 Mashco-Piro – Peru
There are 13 uncontacted tribes living in Peru; thus, five reserves intended for tribal use exist in the Peruvian Amazon. Despite this existing protection, many of these tribes have suffered death and disease in recent years. The Mashco-Piro, of which there are three to four groups, have survived extreme attacks and warfare in their native areas. For example, many of the Mascho-Piro were murdered during the rubber boom, dynamite was used against them by the International Petroleum Company, and they currently face violence from those seeking the profits of Mahogany wood. The tribes seem to have stabilized for now, but the imminent building of a large road through their reserve might prove to threaten them once again.
11 Piaroa – Venezuela
One of the most interesting elements of the Piaroa people is the harmony and cooperation found within their society. Leadership is minimal due to the traditions of sharing, individuality and equality. However, this cooperation is sharply juxtaposed with their interactions with neighboring tribes. These interactions, often spurred by arguments over the clay found naturally in the region, tend to be violent and aggressive. Despite this violence, the Piaroa are a relatively large group, with approximately 14,000 members. Most Piaroa currently reside in Venezuela’s Orinoco Basin, and the remainder can be found in Colombian reservations or near Colombia’s Orinoco River.
10 Wayampi – French Guiana
The Wayampi exist in both French Guiana and Brazil. Many of them have made contact with the global world, as missionaries have been in contact with them since the 18th century. However, there still exist two Wayampi tribes who live in complete isolation. Not only have these two tribes resisted contact from missionaries, Europeans or other outsiders, but they oppose even the other Wayampi tribes in the area. Fishing and hunting are both important for the Wayampi, as is the cultivation of produce including bananas, yams and sweet potatoes. In total, there are about 1,600 Wayampi that practice a tribal lifestyle.
9 Totobiegosode – Paraguay
The Totobiesgosode are the most isolated subgroup of the ethnic group Ayoreo in Paraguay. The Ayoreo are unique in that they are the only South American people living outside of the Amazon that remain un-contacted. One of the most interesting aspects of Ayoreo culture is the fact that they practice live burials: because the Ayoreo shun dying above ground, when they feel close to death they request to be buried alive. The dying person thus dies from suffocation, once they have been smothered with dirt. Like many tribes, the Ayoreo’s way of life is threatened, but two organizations exist in order to protect them.
8 Ruc – Vietnam
There are 54 ethnic groups in Vietnam, each of which possesses a unique culture. One of these minority groups is the Chut people, of which the Ruc are a smaller sub-set. They currently reside in Central Vietnam, although the government has made several attempts to relocate them. They practice a form of religion that is animistic: they believe that many non-sentient objects, like trees, rivers and animals, possess a spirit or life force. Rather than Vietnamese, the Ruc speak the Chut language, of which there are approximately 1,300 native speakers.
7 Waodani – Ecuador
Like the Ruc people, the 4,000 Waodani of Ecuador have a strong belief in animism. To the Waodani, the physical and the spiritual are one. This belief in animism does nothing to halt a violent lifestyle, however: roughly 60% of the Waodani die from murder. They have been forced to undergo lifestyle changes in the past 40 years, altering from hunting and gathering to settlements located in the forest. Although many of the Waodani have undergone lifestyle changes, several groups and tribes of the Waodani shirk from these changes, instead becoming more and more isolated.
6 Carabayo – Colombia
The Carabayo of Colombia reside near the River Pure in the Colombian Amazon. Like the Iroquois of North America, the Carabayo favor the longhouse as their dwelling place. This type of housing consists of a long, narrow room in which many people live. The Carabayo are not entirely without contact to the outside world: like many tribes, they have dealt with violent intrusions into their lifestyle. Slave traders and rubber extractors have both attempted to infringe on the Carabayo in the past. These intrusions have had a twofold effect: the Colombian government has imposed protection for the Carabayo, while the Carabayo themselves have become progressively more secluded and hostile towards strangers.
5 Yanomami – Venezuela
The Yanomami of Venezuela have been contacted and even studied in the past, resulting in a relatively extensive knowledge of their existence and lifestyle, but many of them remain in isolation. Some of the more interesting facets of their lives include the marrying of girls once they begin menstruating at the ages of 10-12, the practice of both polyandry and polygyny, frequent violence, the consumption of cremated bones, and the use of hallucinogens for shamanistic healing rituals. The Yanomami are also one of the large indigenous groups: there are roughly 35,000 in the present day.
4 Awa – Brazil
The Awa People’s way of life has now been in jeopardy for centuries. In the 1800s, they were forced to embrace an itinerant lifestyle, after Europeans repeatedly threatened their permanent communities. In the 1980s, they were mostly relocated to government settlements, but they weren’t granted government protection until 2003. Unfortunately, the Awa still deal with threats to their lifestyle: occasionally, these are violent, as in 2011, when an 8-year-old girl was burned alive by illegal loggers. Today, there are roughly 350 Awa in existence, 100 of which live in complete isolation.
3 Toromona – Bolivia
Not only do the Toromona remain un-contacted, but the exact location of their settlement is unknown. What is known is that the Toromona reside in northwest Bolivia and that a neighboring tribe, the Araona, has possibly contacted them. The Bolivian government has done its best to respect the Toromona’s desire for privacy and isolation by allocating a portion of Madidi National Park exclusively to them, in 2006. However, despite these accommodations, knowledge of the Toromona has not grown.
2 Jarawa – India
The Jarawa people live on the Andaman Islands, an archipelago that belongs mostly to India. Due to the islands they call their homes, this tribe is extremely isolated, a phenomenon that is fairly unique on Earth. However, since the late 90’s, the isolation of the Jarawa people has steadily decreased. The Andaman Trunk Road was built near their settlement, and tourists have increasingly passed by the tribe. This has resulted in outbreaks of the Measles on two separate occasions. There’s no telling how long the Jarawa will remain isolated from the developing world.
1 Sentinelese – India
Like the Jarawa, the Sentinelese people also exist on the Andaman Islands, and maintain a hunter-gatherer society. The Sentinelese are often called the most isolated people on Earth, and number anywhere from 40 – 500. They are extremely resistant to any foreign contact, instead choosing to practice a traditional lifestyle. Although little that is concrete is known about the Sentinelese, their lifestyle allegedly includes community mating rituals and is devoid of either agriculture or fire. They possess rudimentary weapons like javelins and bows and have proven to lack hesitation in using them against what they perceive to be invaders.